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Nigeria: Delta Violence Past & Present

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jun 12, 2009 (090612)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"It is impossible to separate the actions of the oil multinationals operating across the Niger Delta from the actions of the Nigerian government in the region. ... In exchange for the oil removed from the Niger Delta, the oil companies, with the support of the Nigerian state, have left behind an ecological disaster, reducing whole towns and villages to rubble, causing death by fire and pollution, and the guns of the Nigerian military." - Sokari Ekine and Firoze Manji

On June 8, 2009, the parties in Wiwa v. Shell agreed to settle human rights claims charging the Royal Dutch/Shell company, its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC or Shell Nigeria), and the former head of its Nigerian operation, Brian Anderson, with complicity in the torture, killing, and other abuses of Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and other non-violent Nigerian activists in the mid-1990s in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta, for a total of $15.5 million. But while this is a victory for efforts to hold multinational corporations accountable, it is only a small step to resolving the issues of accountability for past offenses or the present conflict that continues in the oilproducing areas of the Niger Delta.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin focuses on recent events relating to the Niger Delta, including the settlement in Wiwa v. Shell and the current military operations by the Nigerian government and resulting civilian displacement. Documents included are the commentary in Pambazuka News ( by Sokari Ekine and Firoze Manji, an action alert from the Africa Faith & Justice Network ( calling for action by U.S. President Barack Obama, and a posting from the blog Niger Delta Solidarity (,

Also included is a listing of books on the Niger Delta and related issues, with links for ordering at Amazon, Amazon UK or Amazon Canada.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today ( contains brief excerpts from an extensive background analysis by Nasir El-Rufai, "Umara Yar'Adua: Great Expectations, Disappointing Outcome," and a press release from Human Rights Watch calling for President Yar'Adua to act to improve Nigeria's human rights situation.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, visit

Additional Sources on Niger Delta:
Reports on attacks, and links to video and audio from production company of new documentary Sweet Crude

Justice in Nigeria Now

Daily Independent, June 2, 2009
Niger Delta - Time for Peace

Toll on civilians still unclear in Delta, June 11, 2009

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

The Ogoni Nine - Shell settlement: Victory, but justice deferred?

Sokari Ekine and Firoze Manji

Pambazuka News, 2009-06-11, Issue 437

Sokari Ekine blogs at
Firoze Manji is editor in chief of Pambazuka News.

Details of the trial and settlement can be viewed at

With Shell having agreed an out-of-court settlement of $15.5 million with the families of the Ogoni Nine activists killed in 1995, Sokari Ekine and Firoze Manji argue that a victory should not be confused with justice. Though representative of an emerging movement in bringing a multinational to the brink of a trial, the questions over the Niger Delta region and Shell's atrocious environmental and human rights records remain, with the company admitting no liability for its actions. We must continue to support the numerous trials against Shell still carrying on, Ekine and Manji contend, and ensure that widespread discussion helps establish broader justice for the Ogoni people and all those suffering from multinational and governmental exploitation in Nigeria and beyond.

"And as I was going, I was just thinking how the war have spoiled my town Dukana, uselessed many people, killed many others, killed my mama and my wife, Agnes, my beautiful young wife with J.J.C and now it have made me like porson wey get leprosy because I have no town again.

And I was thinking how I was prouding before to go to soza and call myself Sozaboy. But now if anybody say anything about war or even fight, I will just run and run and run and run and run. Believe me yours sincerely." Ken Saro-Wiwa, Sozaboy

Thirteen years ago, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr and the families of the eight other Ogoni men who had been murdered by the Nigerian state in 1995, together with two other Ogonis, began three separate law suits against Royal Dutch Petroleum, Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) and Brian Anderson, the former CEO of the SPDC. The plaintiffs accused Shell of human rights abuses against the Ogoni people, of arming the Nigerian army and of being complicit in the extrajudicial killing of the Ogoni Nine in 1995. The trial against Shell was due to start on 26 May, but was then delayed indefinitely.

On Tuesday 9 June 2009, we learned that Shell had settled the case out of court for a sum of $15.5 million, which included a $5 million contribution to a trust for the Ogoni people. The settlement was offered with no admission of liability from the defendant. While the settlement is being seen as a victory for human rights, it raises a number of worrying issues in law suits by local indigenous communities against multinationals who are committing human rights violations and environmental crimes.

It is impossible to separate the actions of the oil multinationals operating across the Niger Delta from the actions of the Nigerian government in the region. The relationship between the two, though complex, is based on profit over and above any other consideration. In exchange for the oil removed from the Niger Delta, the oil companies, with the support of the Nigerian state, have left behind an ecological disaster, reducing whole towns and villages to rubble, causing death by fire and pollution, and leaving behind the guns of the Nigerian military. Shell and the other oil companies in the region have one of the worst environmental records in the world. This includes pollution of the air and drinking water, the degradation of farm land, damage to aquatic life, the disruption of drainage systems, and oil fires, which have left people dead and with horrific burn injuries and no medical care. The causes of the damage to the environment are oil spills from pipelines and flow stations - with many of the former running through villages and in front of people's homes - and gas flaring, which produces toxic gases and releases poisons into the atmosphere.

The late Professor Claude Ake, who was killed in a plane crash in 1996, used the term 'the militarisation of commerce' to describe the relationship between Shell and the Nigerian military government. What he was referring to was the unholy alliance which led to the collaboration between Shell and the military in planning the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine and thousands of others that have been maimed and killed since 1990. Though Ake was referring to the military government of the late Sani Abacha, little has changed since 1995, despite the country's so-called 'democracy'. On the contrary: more violence has been unleashed under the governments of Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar'Adua than under military dictatorships. Only a month ago the Joint Task Force for the Niger Delta (JTF) of the Nigerian military, under the pretext of rooting out militants who were supposed to be hiding in the creeks, launched a violent, sustained attack of collective punishment on communities in the region, this time on the Warri South West communities. The numbers of the dead are not yet known, but estimates run between a few hundred and a few thousand, with some 25,000 displaced. Young men are particularly at risk. They are the ones who in the past have being picked up by the JTF on the pretence that they are militants, when in fact their only crime is that they are just young men.

It is in this context that we need to view the settlement agreed between the families of the Ogoni Nine and Shell. The emotional drain on the plaintiffs in this case cannot be underestimated and at some point they all need to be able to rebuild their lives and look to the future. There is also no doubt that this is a victory in that it brought a multinational to the brink of trial. This is no small feat. It is representative of an emerging movement that has successfully called multinationals to account for their actions. The case adds to the legal precedent set by the Bowoto v. Chevron trial last year (the plaintiffs lost the case), and reinforces the fact that US-registered companies who commit atrocities overseas can be brought to trial, even if justice is not meted out in every case. At the same time, we need to be aware that despite the courts in Nigeria awarding $1.5 billion against Shell to the Ijaw Aborigene of Bayelsa State, Shell has so far refused to pay out. This is clearly a reflection of the complete disdain and lack of respect shown by multinational companies towards decisions of the courts in Nigeria.

This case was brought by the families of the Ogoni Nine and not on behalf of the Ogoni people. How much of a victory is this, and what are the implications for the other law suits against Shell and possibly other oil companies operating in Nigeria? The sum of $15.5 million, while constituting a considerable amount to the plaintiffs, is but a drop in the ocean of oil for Shell. Although legally the settlement includes a non-admission of guilt by Shell, there is some grounds for celebration by the Ogoni Nine, since the general public will draw its own conclusions as to the significance of Shell's out-of-court settlement. But the settlement also sends out the message that oil companies can seemingly buy impunity for the price of one day's worth of Ogoni, Ijaw or Itsekiri oil.

While the families of the Ogoni Nine can celebrate a partial victory and breathe a sigh of relief from the fact that the years of anxiety and hard work in bringing the case to court are now over, it is hard not to think that there will remain a bitter after-taste of polluted waters, poisoned rivers, noxious gases, toxic fumes and destroyed communities living under stress and exploitation a burden to be borne by the Ogoni people over decades. The destruction of their communities and environment has to be laid at the doors of both multinational corporations like Shell and the Nigerian state.

That Shell were forced to pay albeit without an admission of guilt is a victory of sorts. But we should be careful, in the euphoria of the moment, not to confuse that victory with justice. It is justice neither for the families of the Ogoni Nine or for the Ogoni people. That struggle for justice, and the bringing to justice of those who carry out such crimes, remains the task of the day. Like the Ogoni struggle begun by Ken Saro-Wiwa which became the inspiration for other Niger Delta nationalities to demand justice and equity from the oil companies and Nigerian State this trial was also an inspiration to others and as such was always bigger than just the plaintiffs' case. We should remember that right now both the military violence and environmental abuse continue to destroy people's lives. The final question is whether Shell, Elf, Mobil and Chevron will now be motivated to clean up their mess, or will things simply remain the same?

There are a number of other outstanding cases against Shell in Nigeria, including a class action suit by the Ogoni people. It is unlikely that they will be offered an out-of-court settlement and we owe a duty to the Ogoni people to ensure that justice is done, and seen to be done, by ensuring widespread public discussion about and support for their struggles for justice.

'Sleep Well, Ken
And smile at your killers
For though a few feet underground
The struggle you started continues'
Danson Kahyana

Recommended Books on Oil & the Niger Delta

J. Timothy Hunt, The Politics of Bones: Dr. Owens Wiwa and the Struggle for Nigeria's Oil

Ike Ononta, Oronto Douglas, and George Monbiot, Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil

Ken Saro-Wiwa, Sozaboy

Nicholas Shaxson, Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil

Michael Watts and Ed Kashi, Curse Of The Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta

Ken Wiwa, In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son's Journey to Understand His Father's Legacy

Stop Nigerian Military Attacks in the Niger Delta!

Africa Faith and Justice Network

"The helicopter gunships hovered low over a crowded street, where people had gathered to celebrate an annual festival, and opened fire with machine guns and rockets" --BBC Report

On May 14th, the Nigerian Joint Military Task Force (JTF), laid siege to towns along the coast, attacking from air, land, and sea. Although the Nigerian government maintains that the attack was targeting militant groups that obstruct oil flows, what transpired was a massive assault on the communities and villages of Gbaramatu kingdom.

Thousands of lives have been lost and upwards of 20,000 persons displaced in the ongoing military offensive. This is an inexcusable abuse of military power and authority by a government which is heavily supported by the United States.

Nigeria is slated to receive approximately $4.5 million in military training, hardware sales, and counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics education in 2010. It is intolerable that the U.S. taxpayer must subsidize a repressive government's slaughter of its civilians. President Obama should make it clear to Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua that the U.S. will not support leaders who abuse their own citizens.

Voice your concern today by signing this letter to President Obama!

Go to:

4000 additional troops deployed to beef up JTF

From Murphy Ganagana, Abuja
Friday, June 5, 2009

Posted by Inemo Samiama

After about 10 days of fragile peace, tension has erupted again in the coastal Ijaw communities in Delta State, as three more villages were razed by troops of the Joint Military Task Force [JTF] in the troubled Niger Delta region between late Wednesday and 3.30pm yesterday.

This is coming barely 24 hours after the House of Representatives made a U-turn from its earlier support for military action and cautioned authorities at the Defence Headquarters against full application of force in routing out militants from their various camps and hideouts.

Dependable sources hinted Daily Sun that JTF troops on Wednesday stormed Tungbo and Akangbene villages with a large contingent using over 10 gunboats.

During the operation, entire structures and other properties were reduced to rubble. The two Ijaw villages are in Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State Daily Sun further gathered that just as the dust from the surprise attack was yet to settle, the JTF at about 3.30pm yesterday, raided Goba Town, another Ijaw community on the fringes of Chanomi Creek, which is also said to have been completely razed. The casualty figure including the dead and wounded could not be ascertained as at the time of filing this report, but over 2000 villagers comprising mostly women, children and the aged, are said to be currently trapped in the mangrove forests.

Meanwhile, the Presidency has reportedly approved the deployment of 4000 additional troops to beef up the JTF operations. Top security sources said the troops are made up of soldiers drawn from various military formations, and are expected to arrive the JTF headquarters by weekend or early next week.

However, the House of Representatives had on Tuesday at a closed-door meeting of its Committees on the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Defence, attended by the three Service Chiefs, the Minister of State for Defence, Ademola Seriki, and the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Paul Dike, kicked against full military action in the Niger Delta on the grounds that "we are not fighting war against Nigerians".

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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